Minimalism is an intentional lifestyle. It means we choose to focus our energy, attention, awareness, and money on what is most important, according to our own values. Quality over quantity. Paradoxically, the less we have, the more we appreciate it, and the less we buy, the more we can afford to spend. Minimalism is cheaper overall.
Too much is never enough. This is the major drawback of scarcity mindset. When I feel that I Can't Afford things, I have a constant feeling of deprivation. I am Missing Out. Therefore, I have an inner drive to buy as much as I can of what I do feel I can afford. That means I may be buying all sorts of two- and three-star items instead of one four- or five-star item. Not only am I spending significantly more time, space, and money on items I don't like as much, but it often turns out that I actually could afford the one five-star item I really wanted all along.
100 items at $50 each costs less than 300 items at $20 each. If you can't imagine someone having a cumulative 300 t-shirts, sweaters, tank tops, pants, shorts, tights, skirts, dresses, purses, shoes, earrings, necklaces, rings, bracelets, scarves, hats, pajamas, socks, etc, come with me on a home visit and prepare to be amazed.
My people have tons of everything. That is, they have so much of certain items that they can't find their favorite, most important stuff. They also tend not to have certain other items that most of us would consider necessities. Stacks and stacks of old magazines but no passport or first aid kit. Tubs and tubs of yarn but no kitchen sponge. Piles and piles of clothes strewn everywhere, but only two pairs of pants and three shirts that fit today. A house chock-full of stuff of every description, but not a single clear flat work surface and no savings. Books everywhere, but good luck finding that gift certificate before it expires or that missing bill before it turns into a final notice.
We can learn to focus on experiences rather than possessions. That includes the felt experience of daily life. Key to a constant background hum of contentment is a set of systems. We are able to relax and feel satisfied and grateful for life when everything is functioning well. This is much, much easier with few, easily managed possessions than it is in a burgeoning maximalist house.
I feel relaxed when I can get out the door with plenty of time to spare. That is easier when my important daily items are always in my daily bag, and there is no excess of stuff piled around my closet or my front door.
I feel happy when my husband and I are eating dinner at our dining table. We talk longer, like we did when we were dating and we would linger over a restaurant table. This is easier when we can use our kitchen countertops to cook and when we can set our plates down without having to move anything first.
I feel inspired when I can sit down to work with a clear desktop. I can do this when I'm processing information as it comes in and when I prioritize my use of the work space rather than storage space.
I feel content at the end of the day when I can climb into bed with the knowledge that I have plenty of time to get 8-9 hours of sleep. This is actually possible when I've written down all my nagging tasks and appointments, when there's no laundry piled on my bed, and when I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything by going to sleep.
Extra stuff interferes with all of these desired emotional and mental states.
When I feel deprivation or envy or boredom, I want to shop. Retail therapy helps me tune out, distract myself, get pampered by customer service, and give myself treats. I'll worry later about where I'm going to put one more shopping bag or where I'm going to somehow fit more clothes. Result: accumulated clothes, shoes, accessories, makeup, decorations, or other lifestyle upgrades.
When I feel confused or overwhelmed, I want to distract myself. I want passive entertainment. I want to veg out watching TV or playing with my phone. I definitely don't want to do any strategic thinking or planning, especially with my finances or career ladder. Result: accumulated electronics, books, music, movies, magazines, games, toys, craft supplies, coloring books, etc.
When I'm burned out and exhausted, I don't want to cook, I want to go out or get takeout. I don't want to eat leftovers, clear out my fridge, make a shopping list, or plan meals around what I already have in the pantry. Result: magical exploding kitchen.
I can change my attitude toward shopping when I realize that I can afford to spend 5x more if I buy 20% of the amount I used to buy. I can start to see my home itself as a desirable product. I can see my lifestyle as a unit. Physical space is valuable to me. Work surfaces are valuable to me. Mental bandwidth is valuable to me. Functioning systems are valuable to me. I'm going to get a lot more out of a smoothly operating, comfortable living space than I am out of any given consumer item. Even more so, waking up in a high-energy, fit, well-rested and well-nourished body gives me a feeling of general well-being that money can't buy.
Estimates are that Americans waste 40% of our food supply. That will vary from household to household, but it's such a huge number that we'll be wise to figure out our own cost and plan around it. Spending less time on multiple shopping trips per week frees up time to cook at home, and maybe even learn enough skills to actually start enjoying it.
The toughest discipline for me has been to read through all the books I already own before buying anything new. What I thought would take months is actually taking years. The truth is that I have plenty to keep my mind occupied. What will it cost to keep me supplied with reading material once I'm caught up? That's hard to say, but I do know I'll be more likely to buy the new book I really want in hardcover rather than to settle for an older discount paperback. That's minimalism right there: I'll buy what I really want, if and when I really want to buy something, because I didn't waste my time or money buying lesser items more often.
The more I delve into minimalism, the more obvious it seems that owning less is the easiest, most satisfying way to live. Stuff is a poor substitute for a satisfying life.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.